The Cubs are unlikely to have any players compete for the big awards in baseball this season. It’s highly doubtful that there is a National League MVP or Cy Young Award contender among on the 2014 roster. But, on a team wide basis, these are the players who I believe deserve some good, and some not so good, designations.
Most Valuable Player
Starlin Castro – I struggled between the Cubs’ shortstop and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. I think Rizzo will outhit Castro, but if Castro puts up 2011 or 2012 numbers at shortstop while playing even average defense at the position, Rizzo is going to have to put up close to an .850 OPS to surpass Castro’s overall value. I’ll go conservative on this one, and bid on Castro doing something he has done before over Rizzo doing something he has not, despite my belief that Rizzo’s ceiling is higher than Castro’s long term.
Jeff Samardzija - I struggled again with this choice, here between Samardzija and Travis Wood largely because it is unclear if Samardzija will spend the full season with the Cubs or not. Wood had some luck statistics go his way in 2013 (.244 BABIP, 77.4% left on base rate), so I think a negative regression to the mean is likely. I still think Wood has good odds of being the Cubs’ second best pitcher.
But I’ve come to the opinion that Samardzija won’t be traded in 2013. If Samardzija looks like a top of the rotation starter consistently in the first half, the Cubs will extend him. If Samardzija continues to look like a mid-rotation starter who occasionally flashes elite performances, the Cubs will wait another half season to see if he can show top of the rotation consistency in the second half of the season.
Rookie of the Year
Mike Olt - Unlike my picks for Cubs’ MVP and Cy Young, Olt actually could win the NL Rookie of the Year Award if his eye issues truly lie behind him. Olt will likely never be a huge batting average type, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him put up a .260/.350/.450 line with 25 HRs while playing plus defense at third base. Just as a note, I’m not saying I expect Olt to do that, merely that I think it is a legitimate possibility.
I also would not be surprised if Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara put up a better batting line than Olt, but I think Olt will have a large enough lead in games played and plate appearances to make him the Cubs’ most valuable rookie.
First Player Traded
Nate Schierholtz - The Cubs want Ryan Kalish to get regular playing time. Schierholtz would be a significant upgrade for numerous contenders in a corner outfield role, headlined by the Detroit Tigers’ and Cincinnati Reds’ holes in left field, and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ hole in right. I expect one contender with a corner outfield hole to get off to a slow start, and overpay for Schierholtz in response.
Least Valuable Player
Junior Lake – It is not a mystery that I don’t think Lake’s strikeout/walk rate combination can succeed in the Majors, but I think his athletic gifts will enable him to go on enough brief hot streaks to get him 350 to 400 total plate appearances of replacement level baseball.
Player Who Will Look Most Improved Despite Changing Nothing
Edwin Jackson - Just as Travis Wood had some good luck on the BABIP and left on base fronts, Edwin Jackson posted well worse than average rates in both of those heavily luck dependent indicators. He’ll regress to the mean and look like a solid mid-rotation pitcher. Darwin Barney is the runner up in this award, but he’ll still be a wells below average hitter following a BABIP improvement.
Most Actually Improved Player
Welington Castillo - First, what does this mean? This means a player who doesn’t post a crazy high BABIP, but instead does something to actually change some aspect of his game to become a better player in a sustainable way. Castillo had a great year in 2013 as far as OBP and throwing out runners is concerned, but he did not hit for much power and his pitch framing left much to be desired. I think those two skill sets improve, moving Castillo solidly into one of the top ten catchers in baseball.